25 March 2012

Holcombe Waller & The Magnetic Fields @ The Neptune, Seattle, WA, 3/22/2012

There’s few things more rewarding than being a dedicated (and bold) fan. I was first in line at the Neptune, and when I got in it wasn’t a frantic race to the front, so I took a leisurely stroll up there, got to enjoy the empty venue to myself for a second before marking my territory front-center stage. I chatted a bit with the people around me so they’d hold my place.

I was at the merch booth srsly salivating over a colored vinyl copy of “Love at the Bottom of the Sea” and the last Holcombe Waller album I never got, when Holcombe just popped up out of nowhere and I was like, “um, hi?”

And I go into blubbering fangirl mode (“such a big fan”/”love your stuff”/”this song blew me away”/”you go on my mixtapes”/”loved ya from the beginning”/misc. squeeing)

He was like ORLY? when Boom! I whip out the press release full-length demo of his first album.
He was like, amazed: “Where did you get that?? I sold out of those a long time ago… I made this when I was 23! They’re going for $50 on ebay now. Wow… you really weren’t kidding!” He seemed really happy :)
I offered a sharpie and he joyfully signed it:

<3 June!
Thank you for making
my day! I still
love this album!!
H Waller <3

To top it off he said, “Did you get my last album?” I said “No, I—” but before I could finish he just gave me one (listening to Into The Dark Unknown now!!)
And then asked me for a request from the demo.
I swooned over a favorite, and his eyes lit up and he was like “yeah we can definitely do that, if I just go arrange…” and then he gave me a huge hug and scampered off.
He played an amazing set (with my song!) and finished with a cover of “Fast Car," forgetting some of the lyrics, and then laughing it off to his bandmate, “haha, I sound like Jeff Buckley now.”

…and I got his setlist too. FANGIRL HEAVEN!

shadow martyr
risk of ch.
into the dark
—> need +16 min
(baby blue) [played “hands that bathe you”, my request]
i can feel it

The Magnetic Fields:
Stephin is who he is, not one for stage banter or showmanship because the lyrics are enough to pack a hall for two nights. It was a redeeming show for me: I’d only seen them once before, Bumbershoot 2000, when I was standing in the back-corner of a packed opera house, just hearing the dots below.

Twelve years and 4 albums after 69 Love Songs I needed to catch up. The set opened cheerfully enough with “I Die” and was a good mix of material from the new album, 69 LS sing-along favorites, and oldie-classics from Charm of the Highway Strip, Holiday, and Distant Plastic Trees.

Claudia noted the theme of the tour was “marriage and death. Not necessarily in that order.”

Always interesting and lovely to hear even his most electronic and synthesized pieces—like the new “Andrew in Drag”—arranged into a 5-piece band with Stephin on Melodica and the rest of the gang standing by in their usual positions (piano, guitar, cello, ukelele). They said their next video will be for the song “Quick.”

I hope it comes out… quick! :) in the meantime, Imma scan the internets for photos of tonight’s show and if I find some good ones (and a setlist) I’ll share!

14 January 2012

I was challenged to defend my theory that Sufjan is a modern-day Mussorgsky

...and why, by contrast, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor is today's Mozart. Challenge accepted!

You’re probably most familiar with Mussorgsky’s most popular piece, “Night on Bald Mountain." However, I was always drawn to his later work, “Pictures at an Exhibition” from 1874. It’s a very musically literal piece, as are most of his works, but this is about as literal as you can get: The composer walks around an art exhibition and “describes” via a series of suites the paintings he sees, and his impressions of them.

Some are light and playful (chickens or children playing), some refer to classic Russian folk tales (the Hut on Fowl’s Legs) and the magnum opus capping the piece is “The Great Gate of Kiev.” It is a grand, sprawling overture that demonstrates the opulent grandeur of the Russian aristocracy (and the gates that keep them safe).

Between the suites in a repeating motif of the Modest literally walking from one painting to the next. In this he uses an unusual gait—5/4 time signature—because at the time he was using a cane. The strange switching between time signatures not only within but between pieces reminds me so much of Sufjan’s work over the span of his career, but his own magnum opus, “Impossible Soul.”

Sufjan’s work, too, is very literal and ranges from playful (Super Sexy Woman) to folklore (John Wayne Gacy, Jr.) to the sprawling epics containing themes of life, sex, death, and the apocalypse found on the “All Delighted People” EP (Djohariah, his sister) and “The Age of Adz.” Even on the oft-overlooked electronic “Enjoy Your Rabbit,” you find interest, variety, playfulness and signature literal themes. In “Year of the Ox,” The heavy plodding beats mimic the steady plowing of a yoke of oxen.

Reznor, like Mozart, on the other hand, has had a much more expansive musical career, with better-known pieces that show emotion, but often lack distinct subject clarity. (Well, After the ‘89 debut album “Pretty Hate Machine.” Forgive an artist an album or two before finding his voice).

Perhaps this is the synesthesia talking, but I always found an unusually strong and pleasant “circular” sound pattern to both Reznor and Mozart’s work. Perhaps it is the unsurpassed classical pattern of repetition that scientists now tell us is what makes music beautiful to the ear; both are masters at it in their own time and genre.

Take “La Mer” from 1999’s “The Fragile” and My favorite classical piece of all time, “Eine Kleine Nachtmuzik” (First Movement, Allegro, the one you know) from 1787. I don’t know if you play any instruments or read sheet music, but the pattern of introduction, the lead theme, the repetition, the bridge, repetition and coda before the finale actually follow a pattern that closely mimics the 1:1.61 pattern described by DaVinci as the “golden ratio” that describes the beauty of all things in nature from seashells to the human face to the curve of a raindrop.

I myself am more open-minded and subscribe to the Mandelbrot Fractal theory of pattern in mathematics (and what is music without math?). These patters more closely fit the individual patterns-within-patterns that repeat in both “loose” and “tight” loops through both pieces. Let me explain:

Both pieces are singlular “movements” from a larger body of work. Both have elements that not mimic, but actually incorporate overall themes of pattern in tempo, instrumentation, and mood. (Not the same mood, mind you.)

While “La Mer” starts off slowly as a soft, one-bar piano doubling, then later when the bass comes in and you realise you’re at HALF-bar for that tempo, and that bassline is repeating the two-bar melody that is repeated throughout the two-disc piece. It waxes and wanes, with soft spoken French to give an intentionally covert sense of purpose—but not intentionally dark emotion.

Nachtmuzik, on the other hand, follows the same repeating patterns and even use of eighth notes in the half-bar, with a complimentary bassline that carries the listener to follow through the other four movements. Its mood, however, with supposedly boisterous, cheerful opening (supposedly describing a party on a ship at night on the Rhine) is actually anything but—the time signature is actually fewer BPM than La Mer, and if they weren’t both scored in major chords, you’d have a much different feeling about both pieces. Literal intention, however, is much more purposely obscured. They both rely on a simple 4/4 time signature, a straightforward repeating melody and much more complex harmonies.

Unlike Sufjan and Mussorgsky, whose pieces fluctuated over time and with each piece, Mozart and Reznor grew but overall remained amazingly consistent in their productions throughout their musical careers. Earliest works aside, it’s difficult to tell at what point in the musician’s career a piece was written—The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo catches most of the same solid sonic hooks as found in The Downward Spiral, when Reznor caught his foothold, roughly 15 years ago.

Mussorgsky - Great Gate of Kiev.m4p

03 December 2011

The Joys and Challenges of List-O-Mania

We're not even a week into December and I feel like I've already overdosed on year-end list-making/reading. As a freelance contributor to Paste, I was asked to turn my lists in BEFORE Thanksgiving. (It was culled with about two dozen others to create their master list of best albums of the year.) But here's the thing. Before you even tell me my list is WAAAAAY OFF, I'll tell you straight-up, it totally is. I left a lot of stuff off; some stuff is too high; some is too low. That's not to say anything about the albums I haven't even listened to. But such is the subjectivity (and failings) of my own ever-shifting taste and memory.

So as of November 17, these were my faves:

1. Girls - Father, Son, Holy Ghost
2. tUnE-yArDs - W H O K I L L
3. The Mountain Goats - All Eternals Deck
4. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - Belong
5. Emmy the Great - Virtue
6. Larry and His Flask - All That We Know
7. Tom Waits - Bad As Me
8. Andrew Jackson Jihad - Knife Man
9. Cut Copy - Zonoscope
10. The Decemberists - The King Is Dead
11. Wilco - The Whole Love
12. The Antlers - Burst Apart
13. The Smith Westerns - Dye It Blonde
14. Los Campesinos! - Hello Sadness
15. Slow Club - Paradise
16. Future Islands - On the Water
17. Yuck - Yuck
18. Mister Heavenly - Out of Love
19. Acid House Kings - Music Sounds Better With You
20. Childish Gambino - Camp

As of now, well there's stuff I'd remove and stuff I'd add, but by the time you ask me about it, they will have once again changed. So there.

ANYWAYS while discussing the matters of list-making, I stumbled upon a tweet by a musician I was previously unaware of by the name of TW Walsh. It turns out his well-received album, Songs of Pain and Leisure, got a better review and higher rating by Paste than many of the albums on that comprised their list (including Wilco and The Decemberists), yet his was nowhere to be seen. I think his is a valid frustration - while lists that are cumulatively created allow for greater overall diversity, they also make it easier for low profile artists to go completely under the radar.

It turns out Songs of Pain and Leisure is pretty great. Chances are even if you haven't heard of TW, you've heard his influence - he was a member of Pedro the Lion and he mastered Sufjan's epic Age of Adz (not a bad resume this guy has, eh?). As for his own music it's at times folksy, at times bluesy; it has ample rustic charm and even when things quiet down, there's still a propulsive sense of urgency. I especially love how opener "Make it Rhyme" furiously chugs along. Best of all, you can stream it ALL here. So go give it a listen, why don't you?

21 November 2011

Triple Bills and Mister Bands

Let's talk about triple bills. Sometimes it's so annoying having to wade through hours and hours of openers when all you want to do is rock out to the main act. I can think of a few notable exceptions to this rule, however. The best being the Okkervil River/Titus Andronicus /Future Islands tour that took place earlier this year. Seriously if you missed it, you missed the awesomeness of three distinctly different, insanely talented groups. Moody synth-pop, fierce indie punk and rollicking Americana all rolled into one night -- WHEN DOES THAT EVER HAPPEN? Practically never.

The only other shows that comes close -- Los Campesinos!/Girls/The Smith Westerns (my god was that show really over two years ago??) and Jens Lekman/ Frida Hyvonen/ Beirut (and, yikes, that was over FIVE years ago).

I'm not sure if last night's show could have been ranked among those concerts, as I missed the first band's set (oops, sorry Fort Lean). But judging from the other two, it definitely had potential. Mister Heavenly and Mr. Dream. (I am working really hard here to refrain from making lame "Mister Mister" jokes, folks.)

Y'all probably know Mister Heavenly, or at least know of one of their three main band members. It's the guy from Man Man! The guy from Islands! The guy from Modest Mouse! (And sometimes, but alas not last night, Michael Cera?!) Together they make immaculately poppy music, drenched in 1950s melodies, mixed with a little bit of modern day menace. They literally coined the phrase "Doom Wop" to describe their sound and I'd be hard pressed to find a better term to describe it. On record these songs are catchy, but live they are intense. Check 'em out here.

Opener Mr. Dream was also enjoyable. This is what music sounds like when people stop writing about it and start making it. (I only say this because, just like everyone else who writes about them, I'm obligated to mention this is a band composed mainly of one-time Pitchfork writers) In other words, they sound sort of like the the Pixies. It's heavily-influenced punk with nervy bass lines and noisy guitars. They know their indie-rock history and play off of it with great aplomb. Stream their debut album here

22 December 2010

Top 5 songs this time of year

For maximum effect, play these songs over this video :)

I love holiday music, I really do. Primo examples of my favorites and why they deserve a place by your hearth this Yule.

1. Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Carol of the Bells.mp3
A powerful, joyous song in a minor chord. Too short for me... love it so much I always have to listen twice!

2. Vince Guaraldi Trio - Greensleeves.mp3
Just a beautiful, classic carol I love. The 1960's jazz musician Vince Guaraldi helped bring the genre into the mainstream by soundtracking the classic Peanuts flick "A Charlie Brown Christmas." In this track, they simply and beautifully muse on the theme with just piano, upright bass, and soft drums. Perfect mood music for more serene moments during the holidaze.

3. Boston Pops - Sleigh Ride.mp3
This song is all about the percussion. Like 19th Century Russian composer Modest Mussorgky's pieces such as "Night on Bald Mountain" and "Pictures at an Exhibition", The song is an example of literal story-telling, using the sounds to paint a picture. (modern example: Sufjan Stevens does this in The BQE.) The woodblock is the horse's feet, the bells jingling in time to the brisk pace in a flurry of snow. Listen for the whipcraks, and the trumpet's neigh at the end.

4. Barenaked Ladies - Auld Lang Syne.mp3
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought t' mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

It's basically Scottish for "Let's drink for old time's sake." Can't argue with that logic.

5. Kling, Glöckchen, Klingelingeling.mp3
This tender carol, according to Wikipedia, is "a German Christmas carol from the 19th century. The lyrics were written by Karl Enslin (1814–1875) to a traditional German folk tune." Translated as " Ring, Little Bell, Ring-a-ling-a-ling,"it uses German onomatopœia to tell the story of an angel that lights the way for children as they go door to door around the village. At each door, they ring bells and are invited in where they are given small toys and warm sweets. (Sounds fun!)
Some decades later, they popularized the Christmas tree, keeping the kids at home for the Christmas eve visit from the local pastor, and carols like this all but vanished. This was one of my favorites to sing as a kid, and I still love it now.

(FYI... Sufjan's "Songs For Christmas, Vol. VI: Gloria!" was just leaked! You can get the whole thing here. Here's hoping Vol. VII will eventually leak so all our collections can be completed.)

12 December 2010

Top 5 genre-bending, pre-Adz songs you probably wouldn't guess were by Sufjan

"I'm not sayin'... I'm just sayin'... I'm not sayin'. Know what I'm sayin?"

In the Words of the Governor.mp3
I would call this Punk if Sufjan weren't trying so hard to rap.

Movement IV: Traffic Shock.mp3
Maybe it's because I've watched the BQE a lot this year, but the music playfully illustrates the movement of traffic along the BQE at night, from different POV's. A fun blend of the synthetic and the organic, the old and the new, the human and the machine weaves classical orchestra through electronica.

Siamese Twins.mp3
I have no explanation for this brief, distorted spoken word piece.

Satan's Saxophones.mp3
This is on the same album (his first, A Sun Came!) as the previous track. Sounds like "4:22" has competition in the avant-garde category. (Subcategory: "Can I really listen through all the way without skipping or adjusting the volume?")

Holy Holy Holy.mp3
Holy unpeggable soundscape, Batman! The guy releases a fucking HYMN, and no one bats an eye for content because it's simply a gorgeous sound. Is there anything he CAN'T do?

23 October 2010

Could it get much better?

I have the same reaction to your music

The Age of Adz is not a "middle finger" to fans, but it IS a dividing listeners into two groups: those who wish for "the old Sufan" of his Illinois or Michigan days--and those who are taking this schizophrenic future and running with it.

For the nostalgic, the acoustic love intro "Futile Devices" may not be enough balance to sit through the distortions, synthesizers and cacophony of "Age of Adz." But for those who embrace it, the daunting 25-minute journey of "Impossible Soul" (being performed live in its entirety on the current tour) is incredibly rewarding and heartfelt at its core.

Themes of love, sex, death, and the apocalypse feature prominently on a tightly woven narrative of songs more orchestral than Illinois and more personal than Seven Swans. The familiarity of what those two albums offered may seem cold comfort compared to the thrilling novelty of Sufjan wailing "I'M NOT FUCKING AROUND!" 16 times on "I Want To Be Well."

The expectations we leave behind will allow us to more fully explore this fantastic, futuristic post-genre soundscape Sufjan is creating. He's taking us forward with all the bells and whistles--plus some synthesizers and dancing.

Sufjan Stevens - I Want To Be Well.mp3

Oh, and I refreshed the download links to 2008's Songs for Christmas: Vol VIII for your holiday pleasure. Enjoy!

07 September 2010

Weezer @ Bumbershoot, Seattle, 9/5/2010

First, a VK announcement:

I'm still a bit overwhelmed from the 3-day musicfest here in Seattle, and have many more awesome concerts on deck in the next month. Reviews will trickle out as my brain sees fit.

Upcoming reviews:
Joanna Newsom,
Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes),
The XX,
Sufjan Stevens,
Vampire Weekend,
Ra Ra Riot,
The Decemberists,
Neko Case,
Bob Dylan,
Plants & Animals,
The Flaming Lips,
Neutral Uke Hotel
Broken Social Scene



I mean, I could spit vague platitudes like "it was so awesome" but I'm gonna let the Setlist say that for me:
Epic Intro
Hash Pipe
Undone - The Sweater Song
Surf Wax America
Perfect Situation
Dope Nose
Say It Ain't So
Brian's Theme
Island in the Sun
El Scorcho
My Name Is Jonas
Beverly Hills
Hot for Teacher (Van Halen cover)
Pork and Beans
Kids (MGMT cover)
Poker Face (Lady Gaga cover)
(If You're Wondering If I Want You to) I Want You To
Buddy Holly

Rivers Cuomo, adorably gymnastic, spent much of the set climbing the stage like a jungle gym and just giving it all to the enormous, grateful crowd. He donned an appropriately blond wig for the Lady Gaga cover. The band was at the top of their game, and took some liberties with songs.

Recent covers aside, this could have been a show from a time machine... imagined by someone who idolized early 90's Seattle as a place of grungy, devil-may-care, flannel-bedecked crowd surfers. Weezer's set followed Hole, for Chrissakes, and an chilly late summer evening under the Space Needle added to the ambiance that it really could have been 1994.

...I mean, did I mention the crowd surfers? And Moshing? (seriously, who's moshing at a Weezer show. Get with the times).

16 August 2010

New Okkervil, finally...

This new Okkervil River song is simply divine. Will Sheff played a rendition of "Lay of the Last Survivor" last week at a solo show. I can't wait to hear how it will sound fleshed out by the full band, but in the meantime the core melody sounds great stripped down as do most of Okkervil's songs.

15 August 2010

It's that time again

Hope you got your tickets to Sufjan's North American tour this fall already! Tix are still available at most venues. (Seattle kids, I'll see you there!)

I'm not even going to wait for the tour to actually start or see him before the blogosphere is being flooded by show reviews and critiques, so instead I present:

-----Generic Sufjan Stevens Concert Form Letter-----

Well folks, I just got back from seeing Sufjan at [concert location] for the [# of times] time. It was amazing.

He told lots of wonderful stories; they were all so heartfelt and funny. He is really a nice person. I was sitting in the [nosebleed row #] so I couldn't really hear what he was saying, but hey, he's Sufjan, so I clapped and laughed and yelled like a wild [gender] whenever he would deliver the [punch line/deep thought ending].

He played [list every song even though we all know he plays the exact same thing every show] and they were wonderful, but I was kind of disappointed when he didn't play [obscure Sufjan song that I played over and over for 31 hours straight after my [boy/girl] friend dumped me].

He was talking to the audience as if they were all close friends of hiss, and even though I was in [nosebleed row #] and Sufjan was about the size of an ant, I felt like he was staring right at me. He said something like "I'm a really good banjo player" and everyone started laughing but I don't know what he was talking about.

Then, he turned and faced the audience, and everyone suddenly became very quiet, because we all knew we were about to experience the vaguely sexual/religious poetic insight known as For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti. Sufjan sang the words with [pain/ecstasy/hurt/strength/pity] and I heard people all around me weeping openly.

Just as the audience was at the height of awkwardness and dead-silence-uncomfortableness, some [guy/girl] in the balcony stood up and yelled WE LOVE YOU SUFJAN!!/GO MICHIGAN!!/PLAY CHICAGO!!]

Sufjan continued the rest of the show, wonderful as ever, and finally came back for [one/two] encores, which were [we all know, they're the same every time but I’ll tell you anyway].

My friends and I rushed backstage; knocking over several smaller fans as we made our way to the exit that Sufjan would leave via. There was already a crowd of unattractive girls there, waiting around for his arrival. Then Sufjan's bodyguard walked out. He told us that Sufjan wouldn't be able to sign any autographs because [he's tired/he's in a bad mood/he's sick].

We all stood around anyway, and when Sufjan came out we all tried to rush him. The bodyguard pushed us all back, and we were all shouting, "We love you Sufjan!" He looked at us, made a gesture with his shoulders that said, "I'm sorry, they are making me leave, I can't help it!"

Feeling really desperate, I jumped through the line clutching my [poem/song/drawing/love letter/obsessive-fan-stalking-threatening note-written-with-letter-clippings-from-magazines-describing exactly-what-I want-to-do-to-Sufjan] and threw it at his. He caught it, swore he would look at it as soon as he could, and I nearly exploded with happiness.

As his tour bus pulled away, I stood the with 50 other girls who shared one thing: We didn't need men to make us happy, we didn't have to be attractive to feel confident, and we knew listening to Sufjan's music 24 hours a day would eventually help us overcome our individual traumas.

-----End of Generic Sufjan Stevens Concert Form Letter-----

03 August 2010

"I killed a man in a synagogue last night"

It's here! OMG guys, it's here! The first video from Peter Peter Hughes epic Fangio album is out! It's for "My God is an Angry God".

We've already gushed enough about it in previous posts (is it bad that when I hear New Order now, I think "WOW that sounds just like Fangio?!" instead of the other way around?), so just enjoy the video.

The Fangio LP is officially out September 7.

29 July 2010

Interview with Johnny Hickman, of Cracker

[Ed. note: this is a special guest post by friend and journalist Tara Nelson, who recently had the opportunity to talk with Hickman about the newest Cracker album, "Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey," in Bellingham, Wash. Matthew Ward contributes.]

Q: Hi Johnny. It's funny, ever since your publicity agent said I'd be interviewing you, I had the song "What You're Missing" stuck in my head where you talk about helping start the band.
A: That's funny because it was just us kind of joking around and making fun of rap and telling our little story. David and I have been playing music together for more than 20 years but we've had more than 15 other members come and go so we were trying to explain that in that song.

Q: I saw Camper and Cracker when you guys played in Bellingham a couple years ago. What brings you back to the area – Glacier of all places, which has a population of 90, and lies in the middle of the Mount Baker Wilderness!? Don't you know there are bears here?
A: Well I've lived in wilderness areas before, although now I'm in Colorado so it's not exactly wilderness but it's pretty close to it. I guess it’s just about time we come back. In fact, we often look at the map and look at areas we haven’t been in awhile and check out new towns and sometimes we just go to one based on the advice on someone else. We’ve played in big cities and now it’s time to go off the beaten track a little bit. Every time we do that we find great little towns we fall in love with and put on the tour map in the future.

Q: You're entering your fourth decade as a musician. If you look back to the early ‘80s when you first got started with bands like the Box 'O Laffs and Camper Van Beethoven, did you have any idea that this was actually going to turn into a viable, long-term career?
A: Certainly not and every year that it does I feel lucky, but part of it is also hard work and perseverance. David and I both had bands in the ‘80s in southern California, or the Inland Empire, as so they call it, and we’ve both experienced varying degrees of success. We’ve been at it a long time and we have fathers and sons and mothers and daughters who have seen us. One thing we said to each other in the beginning is that bands break up over trivial bullshit and we said let’s stay the course go for the long-haul and we’ve managed to do that. We’ve never been a household word but we’ve been making a living and that’s great.

Q: What is Cracker Soul?
A: That’s a great question because it brings us back to the origin of the band. When we first started hanging out after Camper broke up, I had just come from Bakersfield, California. We had both been into Captain Beefheart, The Kinks, Pixies and bands like that and we started going through our CD collections and saw how much we shared. He turned me on to the Buzzcocks and I turned him on to X and the Dead Kennedies. At the same time we started going away from what was on the radio, which was, at the time, all hair rock and new wave, we went the opposite direction with the songs we were writing. They all had our characteristic humor but stylistically, they were going in a sort of folk and soul roots directions. We realized we were kind of like Creedence Clearwater Revival and bands like that which were mostly white guys singing with this kind of African American soul. We both grew up in the south, we were exposed to a lot of soul music and country and sort of made them mash together. For example, the song “Get Off This” is sort of like a band like Hot Chocolate or something. And then with “Mr. Wrong,” it’s one of those songs where I’m celebrating country music while I’m making fun of it.

Q: That song is so funny, it's one of my favorites.
A: When I was writing that, I thought it would make David laugh. And he liked it so much he wanted to sing it. It’s been a mainstay in the Cracker show ever since. I think that same character shows up a lot in our songs like with “How Can I Live Without You If It Means I Gotta Get A Job” about the sort of quintessential ne’er-do-well who somehow has redeeming qualities.

Q:We all know people like that.
A: Ha ha, yeah we do. Some of us are related to people like that.

Q: Cracker has been described as everything from soul to rock, alt-country, punk, psychedelia to roots and folk music. How would you describe it?
A: At the root of it, it’s just rock music. People have called us alt-rock godfathers and that’s a high compliment but it shows our age, it also shows the time we came up in. In some ways it doesn’t make sense because when I talk about Cracker music, we don’t really sound grunge or alternative even though we came up in that age of Nirvana and Alice In Chains. To me, we sound more like a cross between the Kinks and sometimes The Beatles and sometimes Led Zeppelin and Little Feat. We’re a hard band to categorize and record companies have had a hard time with that. David and I are kind of proud of that, we have no problem with that at all. All my favorite bands I grew up with were also hard to categorize. I don’t like being defined. Anytime anyone tries to define us, there are going to be holes in those definitions.

Q: What’s currently in your rotation?
A: Always Bob Dylan, Neil Young and the Rolling Stones. The Clash is always readily available. X is another one.

Q: On the new Cracker album, Sunrise In The Land Of Milk And Honey, you duet with Patterson Hood of Drive-by Truckers on the song “Friends.” How did that end up happening? Are you guys friends or something?
A: Yeah, we are. I wrote that song about partnerships like David and I or Mic and Keith or Patterson and Mike Cooley, all are sort of classic musical partnerships. It’s a silly song, certainly, but it’s one that a lot more people have identified with than we thought would. I thought to myself two of the icons of alternative rock singing a song I wrote, that’s kind of a feather in my cap.

Q: And your song “Turn on, tune in, drop out with me” is based on the famous quote by Timothy Leary and suggests finding a meadow high up in the Cascades to disappear in. Do you have some sort of special allegiance to this region?
A: David wrote the lyrics to that one but I think the song is just roughly a sketch of him poking fun of some of his alarmist friends, talking about younger urban professionals in their minds planning to go out and live off the land. In one of the verses, they’re trying to decide on granite or tile in the gun nest. It’s quintessential Lowery humor and he’s poking fun of our generation which we all like to do and he’s picturing this couple who wants to go out and live off the land. It could be someone in any major city in Washington deciding to go out and build a commune and set up a teepee and bring guns. I mean, I don’t take lightly the people who look to the dark sides of the future but there’s a little humor in almost all we do, and there’s certainly a little humor in that song.

Q: One of the more interesting things you've done lately is to tour Iraq with Cracker. Is it true that the idea for this tour started with a Youtube video for Yalla Yalla that a soldier put together?
A: A little bit. It’s bits and pieces of Youtube videos that soldiers have posted and it has everything from battle to dancing, to joking around to rocking out to their favorite music, but we took out the sound and made them rock out to our music.
David got the idea when he happened to be at the Atlanta airport where a lot of troops go through on their way to and from Iraq and he overheard a lot of young soldiers saying Yalla Yalla, which is an Arabic word that basically means let’s get up and go, kind of like odelay, in Spanish. The song doesn’t take a stand one way or another on the war, it’s just sort of a sketch.
So he contacted soldiers on their blogs and in their correspondence he was inspired by all the bravado and machismo of young soldiers to write the lyrics. We tried to put ourselves in the minds of 22-year-old soldiers and the kinds of things they’re trying to do to distract themselves from the duties they’re there to perform.
At the end of the song it becomes all about sex and one-upping each other and a lot of ridiculous sexual connotations – things like “she rocked my world,” “she liked my anaconda,” and “she hollered yalla yalla.” It just becomes more ridiculous as the song goes on. But it’s true to form because that’s how guys that age talk to each other. That’s the way David writes. He writes more like a novelist than a song writer and he creates characters true to their own voice.

Q: What are the prospects for another new Camper record in the foreseeable future?
A: I think there’s talk of another one, I know in 2004, they released New Roman Times and I think they’re working on another one. I know David is also working on a solo album. We’ve all done solo projects but David’s never done one and I think it just struck him, he’s pretty close to getting it out. Probably sometime next year.
If we’re not working on the mother ship, Cracker, which is sort of the center of our world and affords us our bread, then we’re working on Camper or solo projects. We’re music 24/7 kinds of guys.

Cracker is performing in Glacier, Wash., on August 19th, for you Whatcom County luckies!
Cracker - What You're Missing.mp3

27 July 2010

What David Berman has been up to for the past two years...

Last Sunday, a small room of maybe 50 people tops, were treated to an awesome lecture by former lead Silver Jew, David Berman. It was part of an Open City writing program. But really Berman spent two hours bashing his father, you know the evil PR guy who represents the interests of big tobacco, alcohol, tanning beds and anything with high fructose corn syrup and fights against MADD, the humane society and the minimum wage. Yeah, very evil. Berman described his father "as a man who prevents progress from happening" and hasn't spoken to him in over five years. More on the evilness here.

Sadly, Berman said he quit music because he felt his "father's world had subsumed his" and that culture and commerce intersect in really disturbing ways. Basically he hated playing festivals next to banners for beer promotion and other corporate things. I'm not sure I agree, but regardless he feels music can no longer be oppositional, which is why he got into it in the first place.

Anyway he started work on a memoir, but then gave up on it. He was also in talks with HBO to create a television series about his father but he decided that was a bad idea since in his words "television normalizes the satanic" and the audience also always sympathizes with the anti-hero. I mean who doesn't love Tony Soprano. So basically we'd all fall in love with his father which defeats his mission entirely. Now he's completely broke but working on a documentary (again about his father). They also filmed his entire talk so you should be able to see it in some capacity, hopefully not too far in the future.

Best quote of the night: "When you're a writer, it's nice to have a dog or two around the office. Because you know they're not getting anywhere either."

I even got to talk to him afterward and thanked him for his awesome music and he gave me a hug, aww.

Random Rules (live 3/10/06) - The Silver Jews

24 July 2010

Keyboard Cat's sophomore effort

I know Jess loves few things more than cats, especially dancing cats...

Clearly, Keyboard Cat has found a more accessible path for his music. Though the debut release was stripped down and intimate, this year's release shows Keyboard Cat growth, with a more diverse assortment of instruments, some interesting new beats, and finally lending some vocals to what was previously an instrumental only soundscape.

12 July 2010


We're well into Summer, which means it's music festival time. If my luck holds, I'll be at Pitchfork all day this Saturday, so drop a comment if you'll be there, too. I'm looking for another pair of tickets, if anyone has a lead on one. See you there!

Young Fresh Fellows - Sittin' On A Pitchfork

11 July 2010

Girl Talk Gossip!

Gregg dropped a note on Facebook today that a new, unnamed album will be out by the end of this year! I was unconvinced that anything could boot his last album, Feed The Animals, out of rotation and mashup favor, but this might just do it! Keep your ear to the rail for more info...

Girl Talk - Set it Off.mp3

28 June 2010

Swinging London!

So I just got back from a whirlwind trip to London. I was technically there for educational purposes (I was taking a course on e-publishing), but between the tours of libraries, museums and other antiquities I managed to squeeze in a some time for music and music-oriented musings. Here are the highlights:

-I finally saw the Avett Brothers live. Of course it's only logical that my friends and I see a band that excels at crafting twangy Americana when travelling across the pond. This totally ruled for several reasons... A) the crowd was epically friendly and polite (a massive departure from the typical Brooklyn hipster scene I've apparently grown immune to) B) it only cost 10 pounds! (that's like 14 American dollars, a fraction of the price I'd pay to see them in the States, which is like over 30 bucks) C) in a venue a fraction of the size I'd see them here (they're scheduled to play the cavernous Radio City in October). Oh and naturally they sounded great, bounding with energy dressed to the nines in their vests and ties.

-Speaking of vests and ties, Harrods (while terribly overrated in my book) was having a 25% off sale on Etro clothing. For those of you who don't know, that's Mountain Goats' bassist Peter Peter Hughes favorite brand for tour wardrobing. And we can't really blame him despite the high price, the designs are so intricate and the fabric so sumptuous. In other words, I'll take any excuse to post this photo of his vest:

-Being able to identify Tube stops from song, i.e. Mornington Crescent and Waterloo Station. Shout out to Belle & Sebastian and the Kinks!

-Hearing Okkervil River's The Stage Names its ENTIRETY being played in an airport gift shop at Heathrow. Instead of waiting at the gate for my flight, I just loitered in the store and enjoyed hearing one of my favorite album's of 2008 being played in the most random of public spaces. I finally got up the nerve to thank the clerk behind the counter for playing it. We chatted about music for about 10 minutes and he even showed me The Hold Steady tattoo on his index finger, (basically just the words "the hold steady" in lowercase typewriter font). If you happen to find yourself in the HMV in Heathrow's terminal 4, tell the man behind the counter I say hi.

And now the only song I know that references both London AND Libraries:
Swinging London - The Magnetic Fields

11 June 2010

“It’s going to be incredible. It’s going to probably blow people’s minds."

...That's what she said.

onethirtybpm.com just released yesterday this jewel that I have been waiting to hear for months: New Sufjan Stevens album!!

While they sort of dismiss his work on Songs for Christmas and The BQE (a big mistake, because it is even more well-done and epic compared to 2005's Illinoise) it sounds extremely promising. Many of the new songs were debuted during last fall's tour around the Northeast/Great Lakes region, so it's tremendously exciting to hear how they'll sound from a studio and months of Stevens' tinkering.

Here's a bit of info fresh from that tour if you want a peek into what to expect. Plus oodles of downloads!

While some are still bitching and moaning about the sabbaticals between albums and the whole "he has 48 states to go!", know that the state album project was intended as a joke, as publicity. the new album, as yet unnamed, has no state affiliation. (Unlike Songs for Christmas, which a few people know is actually supposed to be Vermont!)

Plus, think of it this way: his three greatest, most solid albums are Seven Swans, Illinoise, and The BQE. Those three all took about two years of studio work. Instead of badgering him for more songs, know that with a long timeline we get even BETTER songs. So hold onto your hat(s), and in the meantime, check out the interview with Bryce Dessner of The National, and the video of Sufjan sneakily performing live with them on Letterman a few weeks ago.

Random songs!
Sufjan Stevens - Too Much Love.mp3 NEW!
Sufjan Stevens - Year of Our Lord.mp3
Sufjan Stevens - Majesty Snowbird.mp3 LIVE DANCEY VERSION!
Sufjan Stevens - Age of Adz.mp3 NEW!
Sufjan Stevens - Super Sexy Woman.mp3 LIVE!
Sufjan Stevens - All Delighted People.mp3 NEW!
Sufjan Stevens - Impossible Souls.mp3 NEW!
Sufjan Stevens - Toilet Paper Dolls .mp3 STORY!

10 June 2010

it r mah birfday, prezentz now plz kthx

Happy birthday to me!
Here's a gift for YOU:

Sondre Lerche - Happy Birthday Girl.mp3

09 June 2010

Why I love the Love Language (and why you should too)

The Love Language is by far and away the most underrated band on Merge Records. While well-deserved I'm kinda sick of Spoon and the Arcade Fire getting all the love (how bout their upcoming Madison Square Garden gig, eh?). Last year, I wrote at length about their debut self-titled album which is a lo-fi folk lover's paradise that vacillates wildly between upbeat, orchestral party pop and morning-after melancholia with ramshackle glee. But my love has been renewed after 1. hearing their upcoming album and 2. seeing them in the live.

First off, Stuart McLamb's croon expands tenfold on stage. Without the fuzz of the tape-recorder its given ample room to fly off the stage and into your ears. His vocal prowess lends the songs a new found emotional heft, one that leaves you swooning as a result. The arrangements are also given room to breathe so there's an extra energy to the music.

In other words this is a band who could write a textbook on how to win me over. All other bands take note: Step 1. Write pitch-perfect songs 2. Compile said songs into an album and title it LIBRARIES (I am currently getting a Masters in Library Science). 3. Make ultra cute t-shirts with purple cats on them (OMG I LOVE CATS!!).

But the BEST news of all is that you can stream their ENTIRE upcoming album, the aforementioned Libraries on Merge's website and then buy it on July 13.

Oh and while we're out it download these goodies:
Lalita - The Love Language
Heart to Tell - The Love Language